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9 Sep, 2010 04:43

US navy occupation of 18% of Okinawa to be prolonged

The US navy has delayed plans to move more than 8,500 marines from their military base on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The delay is likely to upset local residents who are highly critical of the US presence there.

Since the end of World War II the US has had a military presence in Japan, which some people living in Okinawa are finding to be a nuisance.

Okinawa residents, like Narumi Genka, say the Marines are damaging the environment and pushing the crime rate up.

“I don't hate the American people, but sometimes we have trouble with them, because of the jets, the sound, and in 2004 an American helicopter crashed into the University of Okinawa-- that was a huge problem,” Genka says.

Around 18% of Okinawa’s main island is occupied by US military forces. Guy, an observer from Israel, is well aware of the inconveniences that locals face.

“We can hear the noise of the airplanes which can interrupt the citizens and there have also been some accidents and crime not only at this base but other bases. However, they also help with the economy and a lot of people from Okinawa work at the bases or depend on the bases,” Guy says.

Some Okinawa residents, like Hikari Nonaka, believe that in order to provide a more stable future, there needs to be less reliance on the bases.

“We need to look for another direction and make more business and we need to be more independent, independent in the economic situation,” Nonaka believes.

Denny Tamaki represents Okinawa in Japan’s House of Representatives and is looking to bring about change.

“It has been 60 years since World War II, yet 70% of US bases in Japan are in Okinawa. Now that there are security measures and programs in place in Asian countries, we want the US to reduce their bases,” he declared.

Aside from noise pollution and space concerns, one of the arguments against US military bases on Okinawa is crime. According to the treaty, American citizens attached to the bases cannot be tried under Japanese law and now most of those crimes, about 90%, have involved drinking and driving or are traffic related, but there have been a few high profile crimes which include rape and murder and have put a strain on US/Japanese relations.

“If crimes do happen, Japanese Security cannot deal with them directly, they must go through the U.S. military base command. Then you have to simply trust them. It becomes very difficult,” Tamaki says.

The US military declined an interview with RT, but did issue the following statement: “Whereas a small group of people in Okinawa continue to vocalize that they are not happy with the bases, many people in Okinawa and mainland Japan fully support U.S. forces in Okinawa and Japan and realize the vital role they play in the defense of Japan and for regional stability and security.”

But getting the US out isn’t as easy as a vote by the people. Japan’s surrender at the end of the war limits the country to having only a security defense force. As part of the treaty, the United States officially acts as Japan’s military in case a conflict should arise that affects the country.

But now, there is a small but vocal movement suggesting that it is time to review old policies that just aren’t needed any more.

“The situation in Asia has calmed. There are no conflicts here. Any conflicts that exist are in western Asia and not here. The people of Okinawa think that the strategic value of these bases has diminished for the US,” Tamaki says.

But with China growing stronger as a geopolitical force in the region, and given the instability of North Korea, it is likely the United States won't be leaving Okinawa anytime soon.